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Social Studies

Ring of Truth

By Vincent Williams | Posted 4/5/2006

My wife isnít originally from Baltimore, and I think her perspective as an outsider allowed her to make an observation I would never have. Several years ago, she pointed out that Baltimore was the only place she had been to where, regardless of educational level, lots of people wear their high school ring, pretty much forever. Itís true. There are an uncountable number of Poly, City, Western, and Dunbar class rings on an uncountable number of fingers in the cityójanitor fingers to lawyer fingers to postal worker fingers to doctor fingers. And that doesnít even count the dozen or so Catholic and private schools spread throughout town. If you ask a lot of us about our most memorable moments, our ring ceremonies will come up. In many ways, Baltimore and its high school class rings illustrate an essential truth. This is a city of high schools.

I like that. I like the fact that we focus so much on our high school educations, because I think that education is positively American. Call me naive, but I just think there are certain facets of our society that are part of our cultural birthright. I believe we should have freedom of speech and religion. I believe we should have the opportunity to make a living and be paid an honest wage for it. And I believe we all deserve a certain level of education.

And I believe high school is the culmination of that deserved education. Sure, by the time you get to high school, you should have the rudimentary level of, as they used to say, reading, writing, and írithmetic, but, once you get to the ninth or 10th grade, there are the finishing elements of early adulthood that should be protected. I read my first Shakespeare in high school. I had my first philosophical debate in high school. I learned how to type in high school. I discovered writing in high school. And Iím certainly not unique. High school is where many of us first began to discover ourselves. In many ways, high school is a sacred experience. And Iíve always admired the manner in which Baltimore has honored that experience.

When Baltimore natives wear their class rings, regardless of how high theyíve climbed the educational ladder, itís a testament to that experience, and an acknowledgment of the link we share with those who came before us. And while many of the folks with those various rings didnít attend the epicenter of educational and philosophical enlightenment that the Xaverian Brothers established in 1876, Mount Saint Joseph High Schoológo Gaels!óthere is an understanding that, historically, you were guaranteed a certain level of education at certain high schools.

So itís easy to understand the dismay and outrage over the current situation with Western High School. For the past few weeks, news has been leaking out that the celebrated high school has lowered its admission standards for some of the incoming freshman class. More troublesome is the fact that, according to some reports, this isnít the first time it has happened. Even more troublesome are reports that Western isnít the only school that has lowered its standards. According to the officials responsible for the action, the standards had to be lowered because of the diminishing numbers of applicants. Because of recent changes to area high schoolsósmaller school size and specialized curriculum are two of the main changes that are citedómany feel that the lack of applicants is due to a larger spectrum of choices. I think itís also worth pointing out that, apparently, the bulk of the students who were admitted with lower standards are performing well.

Still, the whole thing is bothersome because of one thing. Regardless of logistical changes, thereís no getting around the fact that part of the reason the pool of applicants is smaller is because, frankly, there arenít enough of our children receiving the training and preparation to get past that criteria. And why is that? Well, you can fill in the blank yourself at this point. The community, the teachers, the culture, the lack of resourcesóthereís certainly enough blame to go around. The problem with that is if everyone is to blame, ultimately, no one has to take the blame. All we know for sure is that, if we donít watch how we handle the next few years, that guaranteed level of education and the respect that it garners will just be a thing of the past. And no oneís gonna be proud of the ring for that.

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